The Mysterious Miss Tickle
by Theodora Goss
Miss Tickle owns a bookshop on the square
called Antique Books and Oddments, where she sells
old maps, and postcards sent from strange hotels,
and photographs of people you don’t know
in black and white, rain-spattered travel guides
to places like Ceylon and Samarkand,
one called Constantinople on Five Pounds
a Day, a Sanskrit-English dictionary,
and all the Nancy Drews, including ones
I’ve never seen in the public library,
like Death by Henbane, where Nancy, George, and Bess
become witches, form a coven, and solve a murder.
I think it’s one of my favorites. After school,
Miss Tickle lets me sit in the battered armchair
in a corner of the shop, beneath The Collected
Poems of Sappho, where I do my homework
or play with her various decks of tarot cards.
She has seven, one for each day of the week.
She’s hopeless at multiplication, but her cat,
Ebenezer, is pretty good, so he helps me out.
I’ve decided that someday I’m going to be like Miss Tickle,
with long black hair all the way down my back,
a cat named after a character from Dickens,
though maybe less talkative than Ebenezer,
who can be annoying, a closetful of skirts
in blue and purple that swirl around my shins,
a coat with the moon and all the constellations
embroidered on its lapels, and sparkly eyeshadow.
Of course my dad, who’s an accountant, wants me
to be an accountant too, but I think I’d rather
be a witch or own a bookshop, and Miss Tickle
says I can do all three if I really want to,
that learning math can help you cast better spells.
Hers, she says, are always a little slipshod.
The people in town think Miss Tickel’s a little strange.
No one else around here goes out to watch the bats
at twilight, or brings home toads in tupperware
to put in their gardens. She doesn’t eat them, whatever
Mr. Nowak, the grocer, says — I think he’s joking.
No one else keeps newts in a tank, just tropical fish.
Other people use aspirin, not a willow tincture.
Still, they mostly accept her. I mean, she pays her taxes
like anyone else. Though the kids at school suspect
that she flies overhead on a broomstick on windy nights,
with her black hair whipping around her. Miss Finch, the librarian,
says she’s seen her almost crash into the steeple
of the Methodist Church. I’m the only one who knows
that she landed badly that night and sprained her ankle.
She told me the broom was in a bad mood, and threw her.
Sure, I have friends my own age to eat lunch with at school,
but Miss Tickle doesn’t seem old, though she isn’t young:
somewhere between twenty and two hundred.
Her idea of dinner is chocolate cake, and for fun
she plays checkers with her shadow, who usually beats her,
or concocts natural remedies out of toadstools
(she insists they’ve never poisoned anyone),
or recites lines from Shakespeare she knows by heart.
Yes, someday I want to be like Miss Tickle, although
my hair isn’t long and black, just red and curly,
unfortunately. But I’m working on changing that.
I figure magic works as well as hair dye.
I’ve asked her to teach me some spells, and I can already
light the tips of my fingers on fire, and wiggle my ears,
and levitate, just a little. But give me time.
She says when I’m old enough, she’ll leave me the bookshop,
then she’ll retire and go where witches go
(I think it’s on the dark side of the moon).
Meanwhile, I’ll curl up here in the battered armchair
with a batch of cookies that are only a little burned,
but they’re chocolate chip, so it doesn’t really matter,
ignoring Ebenezer, and start on a chapter
of the Philosophical Works of someone named Hypatia
of Alexandria, which is more interesting
then you would expect, judging from the cover,
while Miss Tickle rings up a customer, then calls
to the back of the bookshop, “Would you like some tea?
I’ll put the kettle on, my dear, if you’ll join me!”
(The image is by Achille Mauzan.)